We have a home. Hooray!
A little over a week ago, we once again packed our 11 suitcases and moved. It feels so good to have our own space and things that are becoming familiar. When you move from state to state in the U.S., it is traumatic. You uproot your family and move to an unfamiliar area. New friends, new schools, a new life. Take that experience and multiply it by 1,000 when moving to a foreign country. Not only are you uprooting your family, you are also leaving behind practically everything that is familiar. Your entire way of life has been turned upside down and you are forced to learn everything anew. Some things are really good, while others are really bad.
Customs, traditions, and general way of living are very different in Chinese culture. Many people here work very hard for very little. I am humbled as I stand in an upstairs bedroom of our house and look out over the compound wall that surrounds our neighborhood. A migrant village lies just on the other side. Shacks and trash dot the landscape. People who live there grow their own vegetables in neat little rows. They have so little. A small shelter and some meager food. I can imagine the hard lifestyle so many locals experience is what leads them to devalue human life. For example, regardless of air quality, most smoke cigarettes. In fact, Brett received a lovely Christmas basket full of cookies, granola, snacks, and a pack of, what he figured, were candy cigarettes.
“The boys are certain to get a kick out of these!”, I thought.
So, I unwrapped the package only to discover that, no, they were not candy cigarettes. They were REAL cigarettes. I suppose it is the thought that counts, right? Needless to say, I did not give them to the boys. Perhaps I should have in order to watch their reaction. I’m sure it would have been priceless.
Labor here is obtained at a very cheap price, but not necessarily performed by a qualified tradesman. There is a joke, that whenever you have something broken, the first ones to arrive for the repair are two men armed only with a roll of duct tape. I have to laugh because this is not very different from the way Brett fixes things at home. I had a light bulb that was burned out so I called for someone to come replace it (yes, I called someone..I don’t even have to replace a light bulb. I am getting spoiled, I know). I warned the service center over the phone that the ceiling is about 9 feet tall so the repair man would need a ladder. Did he bring a ladder? No. Instead, he came in and grabbed a kitchen chair. When he stood on the chair and realized he still could not reach the light bulb, he went to the garage and found a paint can. He placed it on the chair. Next, he climbed up and balanced on the paint can, which was still precariously sitting on the chair.
“Good Lord, please do not let this man fall and die in my house,” I thought.
But all went well and my light bulb is shining bright again.
Shopping has been the biggest challenge to date. There is no Amazon, Target, or Kroger here. Finding food and household items is a treasure hunt, to say the least. It took me three days to find all the ingredients for a simple meal of tacos. Buy your meat here, and taco shells there. This store is sold out of shredded cheese. A container of sour cream is half the size as in the U.S., and you have to wonder, is it really sour cream? Most of the writing on the package is in Chinese. What the heck am I buying? Not to mention, you pay three times more than you would back home. That bag of shredded cheese I mentioned is over $5 per bag! And, if you know my family at all, you know that the boys must have ranch dressing. In the Burin household, it is considered king in the condiment world. Through extensive searching, I have come across only one place that sells this elusive family favorite. It comes in a small bottle and can only be found online. Online, now that is an awesome way to go shopping. Labor is cheap, remember? I can order groceries online (wine too!!), and have it delivered for free! No tipping, and no extra charge. Much of my first week was spent shopping online for groceries, and it was wonderful!
Before we arrived in Shanghai, we hired an AYI, or housekeeper, through a recommendation. I could never afford such a luxury back home, but here it is very affordable. Our AYI’s name is Ping Ping, and she is my new best friend. She comes in like a whirlwind and gets right to work cleaning every nook and cranny of our house. She does laundry AND cooks dinner. Having her is a dream. I am so grateful for her hard work and am humbled to have someone as wonderful as her to help around the house. The second day she was here I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the piping hot dinner she served us that I gave her a hug. Apparently, the Chinese are not a touching culture so my act of gratitude got awkward very quickly. Since then, I have learned to keep my hugs to myself, but still thank her profusely every day. Just having someone to help me with daily tasks is something I will never take for granted.
The first day of school finally arrived last week. We all went to an orientation day which was going smoothly until we lost Jack. Why is it always Jack? We left him and a couple other new students in their classroom to get acquainted while we went to an orientation meeting. We were asked to return in an hour to pick him up. Upon our arrival, the teacher told us she did not know where Jack and another new boy went.
“They were with the class one minute, and when we went down the stairs, they disappeared.”, she said.
The other boy’s mom and I followed the teacher through the elementary school building looking for our missing children. To the art room. No boys. To the classroom. No boys. Perhaps they are in the lunchroom? Down the stairs we went, the other new mom and I trying not to panic. Finally, on the first floor, we found them, walking down the hall by themselves. What a great start. Jack told me no one told them what they were supposed to do, so they decided they would explore the school. Great, my kid started his new school as a hooligan, bringing the other new kid down with him. I suppose I should be happy he is gaining confidence, but I worry where this new found moxy will lead.
I’m sure Elijah would say the most exciting thing we have done so far is, purchase a scooter. Scooters and bicycles are very common means of transportation among ex-pats, especially since most only have one driver. I believe the minimum age to drive a scooter is twelve, so Elijah tried his hand at driving ours, and was not bad! There is no license required to drive a scooter here, so it is common to see many zipping around Shanghai. Of course, you ride at your own risk. Drivers here are crazy when compared to those in the U.S.. I’m sure drivers in New York City are more tame than drivers here. Aggression and frequent honking are commonplace. Pedestrians, bikes, and scooters do not have the right of way at any time in Shanghai. Even walking across the street must be done with extreme caution and prayer. I feel as if I am in a game of Frogger when I attempt to cross the street. Except, I’ve heard that if someone hits you, they will back up and run you over again just to make sure you are dead. It is cheaper to pay for a funeral than to pay for medical bills. So, I think we will get comfortable walking around town before we begin the adventure of attempting to drive.
Through it all, we are acclimating well. Each of us learns so much every day. The key is patience. With others, and with ourselves, always patience. Allowing twice as long as we think we need to do anything, and just finding humor in all situations. I went to the grocery store today and upon check out, was given some coupons for my next visit. As soon as my transaction was complete, I was surrounded. Like locusts, women swarmed me, wanting me to give them my coupons. They were yelling at me, and each other, and were very aggressive. I finally had to tell them forcefully, “no!”, and push past them to exit the store. As I left, I chuckled. An interesting, and terrifying situation, but I was able to leave and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
I still laugh, and I still cry but am settling in, and learning to appreciate all the blessings that come with living in Shanghai. You take the good with the bad, and live your life one day at a time. We are blessed no matter where in the world we may be, and I am grateful for it all. Crazy drivers and lost kids included.